I recently had a conversation with some poetry friends that centered around the question “Which literary magazines would you consider to be the top ten?” The lists people gave almost always had The New Yorker on top and then listed other high profile journals such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, The New Republic, Granta, Boston Review, Literal Latte, Poetry, The Paris Review and the American Poetry Review.
As, for me I am not sure what exactly the criteria is for being a top-ten literary magazine. From the above list it would seem to be magazines with large circulations and large advertising budgets. Some also may be chosen because they are generous with Pushcart nominations.
I can think of only a handful of poets that I know that have ever been published in even one of these high profile magazines. From my perspective most of these magazines are inclined to cater to well-known poets who will reinforce the publication’s own visibility. I am also not impressed with Pushcart nominations, since I know that almost anyone can get a nomination, especially if they are friends with the publisher. Pushcart nominations are worth nothing. Only Pushcart prizes are of value. Heck anyone with $50 and a friendly publisher can even get a Pulitzer nomination.
Personally, I don’t think it is really possible to “rank” literary magazines any more than it is possible to rank poetry in general. How do you rank Milton’s Paradise Lost against Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Shakespeare’s sonnets or Eliot’s Wasteland? Poetry is an art, not an athletic event. There is no finish line to reach first. Instead personal taste and aesthetics must be considered for any “judgment” of poetry.
I prefer to offer up “favorites” according to my own criteria. First of all, more than anything else, I want to work with magazines that consider the poetry more than a “who’s who” of poets. I want my submissions to be considered for themselves and not because I have an MFA or studied under a former Poet Laureate. I am fond of journals that will place the work of an emerging poet alongside that of a well-known and respected poet. I also appreciate journals that are involved with poetry in multiple ways. In addition to publishing individual poems, do they have contests for chapbooks? And if they are a traditional print publisher, do they also have opportunities for online publications? Do they do things in the community? Are they in love with poetry and the arts as much as I am?
Since I am a visual artist as well as a writer, I have a special affinity towards journals that not only publish great poetry, but also include prose pieces, book reviews, and perhaps pictures as well. I love journals that pay attention to design and display work in the best possible way. I like journals that make a “good home” for my work and those of clients.
In addition to accepting diverse and quality poetry, my favorite journals tend to be poet-friendly. I like when journals accept paper copies as well as digital submissions and thereby give poets the option of how they want to submit. I also like publications that accept simultaneous submissions and/or previously published poems with acknowledgements. And I find it wonderful when an editor will contact me directly to suggest a small improvement or to clarify a format. Below are some of my favorite journals in no particular order. To my knowledge, none of them require a reading fee with the exception of add-on contests.
• Rattle Magazine accepts poems either by online submission, or by regular postal mail. They accept simultaneous submissions. In addition to their journal they also sponsor various contests for single poems and chapbooks, as well as offering online ekphrastic challenges or poems about current events.
• Red Wheelbarrow of DeAnza College welcomes submissions of all kinds, and seeks to publish a diverse range of styles and voices.
• Blueline is a literary magazine devoted to the spirit of the Adirondacks, a small regional magazine that accepts poetry, creative nonfiction, and artwork. It also accepts work from both new and established authors.
• The Aurorean has an interesting fall-back feature for poems which they feel are too dark, too long, or experimental, etc. Unless you request otherwise, these poems are also considered for their broadsheet, the Unrorean. They accept both mail and digital submissions and simultaneous submissions.
• The MacGuffin’s mission is to encourage, support, and enhance the literary arts in the Schoolcraft College community, the region, the state, and the nation. They accept both digital and mailed submissions, and have been publishing since 1948. They are interested in both prose and poetry.
• The Chaffey Review seeks out previously unpublished art, by both established and emerging artists, that is well crafted, has an intelligent sense of form and language, and assumes a degree of risk. They accept poetry, prose and art, and submissions can be made through the mail or online.
• Silk Road has an open-ended call for submissions and accepts simultaneous submissions. The publication is nicely done and if your work is published, they send you two copies of the book.
Obviously, my favorite journals tend to be independent small presses or publications connected with smaller colleges or universities. And while some of the above journals have been around for decades, I am sad to say that many other wonderful publications have disappeared or are foundering. Often these smaller, friendlier, more democratic journals fail for lack of money or staff. Rattle is a lucky exception in that it is backed by a large foundation. But most of these publications need to sell their books to stay in business or resort to reading fees or contests to cover costs.
But like I said in the beginning, attempting to identify the “best” or “favorite” literary journals is a very personal thing. It depends on how you see yourself and poetry and how you want to interact with others. For me, I prefer submitting to good solid journals where I have a reasonable chance of being accepted rather than to some elitist magazine which values circulation numbers more than the beauty of words.
An artist, writer, editor and local publisher of Palettes & Quills (http://palettesandquills.simplesite.com/), Donna Marbach is widely published in journals, anthologies, and periodicals.
Despite the best efforts of bronchitis, I was able to travel to non-profit Bright Hill Press & Literary Center (www.brighthillpress.org) for the official book launch of my chapbook Language You Refuse to Learn last week.
Bright Hill, which is situated on the outskirts of the Catskills, reminds me of Doctor Who’s TARDIS. From the outside you see a lovely country house but inside is a lovely gallery space with a library of used books for sale and, beyond that, a new addition which houses private book collections donated to Bright Hill as well as a children’s space.
Bertha Rogers, the driving force behind Bright Hill, was a welcoming host, most gracious in extending an invitation to my friend Lorrie and me to stay in the literary center’s guest space where we could have spent days perusing all that the library has to offer.
I am extremely grateful to my friends Lorrie, Kathy, Donna, and David Michael who made the trip from Rochester to Treadwell for the book launch and reading.
Future readings will be Thursday, October 2 at the DeWitt Community Library (7:00 pm) and Thursday, October 9 in the Golisano Gateway at St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, NY (7:30 pm). Many thanks to M.J. Iuppa for arranging this reading.
From time to time, guest bloggers will be posting on topics related to poetry and publication. When guests do post, please remember that their words and opinions are their own and may or may not be shared by me. Guest bloggers are not given preferential treatment by Poetic Effect.
Today’s guest blogger is Donna M. Marbach, publisher at Palettes & Quills.
Poetry Contests, Our Community Projects
Poets & Writers magazine in its May/June 2012 issue published an article, that all serious poets should read, “The Risks and Rewards of Writing Contests” the article, by Michael Bourne, makes an interesting point. The contests are a kind of community project. Poets’ reading fees help support the whole concept of poetry by allowing publishers to continue publishing it. Readers, in turn, are exposed to poetry they otherwise would never see. “A community project” is certainly how Palettes & Quills (http://www.palettesnquills.com/) sees its own biennial chapbook contest.
Bourne’s extensive article examines what happens with the money from contest fees, suggests how one can determine ethical contests, and poses pros and cons to help readers decide whether entering contests is “worth it.” Though you, as poet, are really the only one who can answer the worth of contests, Bourne notes, “Unless your work is showing up in prestigious literary magazines or you have a connection to the editors at a press that publishes poetry, writing contests probably offer the best way to ensure that your work will at least get a fair reading.”
If contests truly are the best way to have your work read, how can you maximize your chance of winning one?
First and foremost, it is critical that you obtain and read the rules or guidelines for submitting and don’t assume that your poems constitute an exception to the rule. Contest administrators have rules for a reason and (whether you think they are reasonable or not), if you want to have any chance at winning, pay attention to them. If the rules are unclear or you believe you have a justifiable “exception” to something, write the administrator beforehand and get a clarification.
Secondly, know something about the final judge. It is useful to know the background, work and philosophy of whoever has been named the final judge. If you are not familiar with him/her, do some research. While it is not necessary or even desirable that your work be the same or similar to that of the judge, it is useful to know whether or not he/she might like or dislike your style of poetry.
Another tip you may wish to consider is to submit your manuscript as early as you can in the reading process. Avoid a last minute submission if at all possible. So many manuscripts come in right before a deadline that first readers can be overcome by the volume of manuscripts they have to read. You risk having your work being given a less than a positive rating simply because it is the 10th or 12th manuscript the reader has reviewed that day.
Also when entering a contest, in addition to considering the prize itself, take some time to consider who and how much competition you’re going to have. For example, if you enter Prairie Schooner Book Prize for $25, you could win $2,500 and publication (no specific number of books) but you would also be competing with 628 other poets. If you enter Palettes & Quills for $20, your prize is $200 plus 50 books, and you will only be competing against 140 or so other poets. Quite honestly, beginning and emerging poets have much better chances at winning some of the smaller and lesser known contests, thus making them a better bet for getting their work out and about.
Finally, submit a quality manuscript. Not only should your manuscript be clean, legible, and without spelling, typographical or grammatical errors, it should be a single work of some quality. Just as a poem should be more than a jumble of words, a good manuscript should be more than a bunch of poems. There are many ways to order a manuscript – too many to discuss in this essay. Nonetheless, no matter how you do it, you should arrange your poems according to some underlying theory that makes them a cohesive book.
In the end, contests are certainly one way to participate in the sharing of poetry. They provide poets with an opportunity to expose their work and to grow as poets. They allow publishers, especially small, independent publishers an opportunity to publish and disseminate good poetry to more people. And they allow readers, editors, and judges to assist in bringing good poetry into a spotlight that might not exist without them. Contests are indeed “a community project,” one in which we all can compete yet support each other at the same time.
Congratulations to Donna Marbach for her recent publication in Redactions Poetry & Poetics. Check out issue 12, guest edited by Rob Carney, which also includes work by Christopher Kennedy and James Grabill.
Poet and editor Donna M. Marbach will be reading from her work Thursday, June 4 at Writers & Books, 7:00pm. Marbach, who will be reading with chapbook contest winner Kathryn Howd Machan, is the owner and manager of Palettes & Quills (http://www.palettesnquills.com/), a small press based in Rochester, NY.
Marbach is a founding member and past president of Just Poets (http://www.justpoets.org/) and is the current editor of the organization’s newsletter, Poet Talk. When not writing, editing or publishing, she paints and markets textbooks.